us soldiers train Ukraine army
© AP Photo/Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Service
US instructor trains Ukrainian soldier for the use of M141 Bunker Defeat Munition (SMAW-D) missiles at the Yavoriv military training ground, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022.
Moscow has said that Ukraine used multiple rocket launchers to shell residential blocks in the town of Starobelsk, roughly 100km (62 miles) north of Lugansk on Saturday morning. The reported incident occurred during the fight between Ukrainian troops and the forces of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR) backed by the Russian military.

Ukraine controlled the town prior to the dramatic flare-up this week, and it is unclear who is controlling it now.

According to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, the attack by "Ukrainian nationalists" took place around 10.30am local time. Buildings were damaged and caught fire, the ministry said, adding that there were civilian casualties, without specifying how many.

The ministry said it expected "similar provocations" in the towns of Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, without elaborating.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted DPR officials as claiming that Ukraine fired four ballistic missiles into its territory the same day. The agency shared photos of what appears to be missile parts lying on the ground. RT was unable to independently verify any of these claims.

Ukraine confirmed heavy fighting in Starobelsk, also accusing the Russian forces of shelling the town on Friday morning. It has not commented on Russia's allegations about shelling civilians in Starobelsk.

Russia has insisted that it is only hitting military sites, such as airfields and radar stations. The country's Defense Ministry reiterated on Saturday that Russian forces were not targeting civilians.

The DPR and LPR said they launched an offensive against the Ukrainian forces early Thursday morning after reports of shelling along the de facto borderline fixed by the 2014-2015 ceasefire agreements. The sides accused each other of initiating hostilities.

Both the DPR and LPR broke off from eastern Ukraine shortly after the 2014 coup in Kiev. Russia recognized their independence on Monday and launched a military operation in their support three days later. Kiev said the attack was entirely unprovoked.